A Bold New Explication of Jewish Tradition Argues That Its Beliefs Are Justified by Its Practice

In his recent book Judaism Straight Up (reviewed in Mosaic here), the legal scholar and computer scientist Moshe Koppel offers an unusual and vigorous apologia for both Orthodox Judaism and for tradition itself. He does this through a study of two Jewish character types, the pious Shimen and the educated, liberal, cosmopolitan Heidi. Mark Gottlieb observes:

A pillar of Koppel’s argument is the priority of actions over beliefs, of concrete forms of life over grand narratives. Of course, he acknowledges the interdependence of these things, but as a matter of principle and practiced experience, he privileges behaviors as the decisive factor in religious decision-making. . . . Koppel insists that . . . “virtues and traditions are primary and beliefs are derivative.”

Koppel acknowledges that Shimen was raised at home and ḥeder (the primary-school version of yeshiva) to believe certain things. The most foundational of these include God’s revelation of the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai, a system of reward and punishment expressing God’s ubiquitous, if not always transparent, justice, and the promise of a redeemed world at the end of history. But for Koppel, these affirmations coalesce into the single belief that Judaism is a “directed process linking the Jewish past with the Jewish future.” The rest, Koppel says, is commentary.

Now, it’s fine for a philosophical mathematician like Koppel to abstract the multifariousness of Jewish practice and belief into one pithy formula, but the learned game theorist is making a bolder, perhaps more controversial claim. Stated baldly, it’s this: the real subject matter of Jewish belief is Jewish practice.

And Jewish practice (like the beliefs that encode that practice) is a self-regulating, self-reinforcing system, which does not stand or fall on the evidentiary record or on the veracity of the historical events on which the faith is founded.

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Read more at First Things

More about: Judaism, Moshe Koppel, Tradition

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror